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Regulator raps Ryanair, Virgin and others for being too slow on refunds – but says all UK airlines have now agreed to pay up

Regulator raps Ryanair, Virgin and others for being too slow on refunds – but says all UK airlines have now agreed to pay up

The aviation regulator has today published a list of 18 airlines' performances during the coronavirus pandemic, with Ryanair and Virgin Atlantic rapped for being too slow to pay refunds. The announcement comes after MoneySavingExpert.com warned yesterday they were likely to be named and shamed based on the results of our latest survey on travel refunds. 

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has previously said it had identified airlines that were paying refunds too slowly or weren't giving cash refunds at all – warning earlier this month that only a minority of airlines were paying out within acceptable timeframes

But today is the first time it has named airlines that have performed unacceptably or acceptably. 

Its findings largely reflect the results of MSE's latest travel survey, which received over 77,000 responses and was submitted to the CAA with a call for it to take action – just yesterday MoneySavingExpert predicted that Ryanair and Virgin Atlantic were likely to be named and shamed by the regulator based on the survey results.

However, the CAA says its intervention has led to improved service from most airlines and faster refund payments – with all UK airlines now paying refunds. The regulator also says that call centre waiting times have reduced and customer service messaging from airlines on customers' refund rights has been clearer. 

As a result, the CAA isn't taking any enforcement action at the moment, saying it gets quicker results for consumers through informal interventions. 

But it says it's still monitoring the situation and "will not hesitate" to take further action against airlines if needed.

For full help if your travel plans have been disrupted due to the coronavirus pandemic, see our Coronavirus Travel Rights guide. And see our latest MSE travel survey results for the 70 best and worst firms for refunds during the pandemic.

How did different airlines perform? 

The CAA's review has focused on 18 different airlines. This includes all the UK airlines, as well as a number of EU or international airlines which have large UK operations or had been identified as potentially having significant refund problems. 

It used its own investigations as well as information provided by consumers and consumer bodies to look into whether airlines were placing barriers in the way of customers requesting refunds through unclear messaging and difficult-to-navigate or understaffed customer services.

The CAA says it found only three airlines – American Airlines, Jet2 and United Airlines –were promptly paying out refunds and didn't have major backlogs. Jet2 was the highest-rated airline in our latest travel survey, with American Airlines placing fourth (United Airlines didn't receive enough responses to be ranked). 

And on the other end of the scale, it's named and shamed airlines such as Easyjet, Ryanair, Tui and Virgin Atlantic for not paying out refunds quickly enough – though it says all have made commitments to improve their payment times. Ryanair and Virgin Atlantic were the worst-rated major airlines in our survey. 

It also highlighted airlines such as Air Canada, Air Transat and Turkish Airlines which it initially identified as not paying refunds based on customer complaints – yet it says all airlines it contacted have now confirmed they are paying out cash refunds as they're required to. Again, Air Transat was the second worst-rated airline in our survey. 

You can see the CAA's comments on individual airlines' performances below:

    • Aer Lingus: The CAA found that Aer Lingus has a "sizeable" backlog of refund requests but has been processing them "relatively quickly" with timescales of 30-40 days. Aer Lingus has committed to reduce processing times and work through its backlog by introducing more automation in its refund process from August. 

    • Air Canada: The CAA says it had identified Air Canada as not paying cash refunds based on passenger complaints. However, Air Canada has now confirmed it is paying cash refunds, and contacting customers when a flight is cancelled to let them know they have this option. 

    • Air Transat: The CAA says it had identified Air Transat as not paying cash refunds based on passenger complaints. However, Air Transat has now confirmed it is paying cash refunds, and contacting customers when a flight is cancelled to let them know they have this option. 

    • American Airlines: The CAA says American Airlines is consistently processing cash refunds quickly and only has a small backlog of refund requests.

    • British Airways: The CAA says the information it has indicates that British Airways has a "relatively small" backlog of refund requests and has been processing them "relatively quickly" with timescales of 30 days or less. 

      But passengers have reported difficulties contacting British Airways to request a refund, and the CAA says it was unable to speak to an agent in sample calls to the airline and found calls were ended after a recorded message. British Airways says it's made changes to its helpline to make sure this doesn't happen any more. 

    • Eastern Airways: The CAA says Eastern Airways has a "relatively small" backlog of refund requests and has been processing them "relatively quickly" with timescales of 30 days or less.

      However, the CAA found that Eastern Airways previously didn't directly tell customers with cancelled flights about their right to a refund, due to a system issue – this was fixed in early June. 

    • Easyjet: The CAA says its review identified Easyjet as having a "sizeable" backlog and not processing refund requests quickly enough, with initial timescales of up to 90 days. Easyjet improved its performance in May and June but the CAA wasn't satisfied and asked for further commitments to reduce refund processing times. 

      Easyjet now says it's able to process refund requests in less than 30 days and expects its backlog to be cleared by early August, as a result of increasing call-centre staff numbers and extending opening hours.  

    • Jet2: The CAA says Jet2 is consistently processing cash refunds quickly and only has a small backlog of refund requests.

    • Loganair: The CAA says its review identified Loganair as having a "sizeable" backlog and not processing refund requests quickly enough, with initial timescales of up to 90 days. Loganair cut this to 60-90 days for the majority of claims but the CAA wasn't satisfied and asked for further commitments to reduce refund processing times. 

      Loganair says it's now committed to reducing its timescales to less than 30 days and says it will process all eligible claims made in April by Tuesday 4 August, those made in May by Monday 24 August, those made in June by Monday 31 August and those made in July by Sunday 6 September. It's writing periodically to customers who are waiting for refunds to let them know about the timescales. 

    • Malaysia Airlines: The CAA says it had identified Malaysia Airlines as not paying cash refunds based on passenger complaints. However, Malaysia Airlines has now confirmed it is paying cash refunds. 

      At the CAA's request, it's also taken steps to change its website and online refund form to make it clearer to passengers with cancelled flights that they have the option of a refund and give them steps to claim it. The CAA's also asking for clearer communication on the notifications the airline sends to customers with cancelled flights. 

    • Ryanair: The CAA says its review identified Ryanair as having a "sizeable" backlog and not processing refund requests quickly enough – initially it was taking 10 weeks or longer to process refunds. 

      The CAA wasn't satisfied and asked Ryanair to make further commitments to reduce its refund processing time. It's now committed to clear 90% of its refund backlog by the end of July. 

    • Tui: The CAA says its review identified Tui as having a "sizeable" backlog and not processing refund requests quickly enough – initially it automatically issued credit vouchers and asked customers to wait 28 days to claim a cash refund instead, which then took 28 days to process. 

      The CAA wasn't satisfied and asked Tui to make further commitments to reduce its refund processing time. Tui has now confirmed that it won't be automatically issuing credit vouchers and will instead automatically start the refund process and will process cash refunds in 14 days on average.

    • Turkish Airlines: The CAA says it had identified Turkish Airlines as not paying cash refunds based on passenger complaints. Yet Turkish Airlines has now confirmed it is paying cash refunds. 

      At the CAA's request, it's also taken steps to change its website, online refund form and notifications to make it clearer to passengers with cancelled flights that they have the option of a refund and give them steps to claim it.

    • United Airlines: The CAA says United Airlines is consistently processing cash refunds quickly and only has a small backlog of refund requests.

    • Virgin Atlantic: The CAA says its review identified Virgin Atlantic as having a "sizeable" backlog and not processing refund requests quickly enough – though it initially had timescales of up to 60 days, this increased to a maximum wait of 120 days. 

      The CAA wasn't satisfied and asked for further commitments to reduce refund processing times. Virgin Atlantic now says it will process all claims made in August within 80 days, all claims made in September within 60 days, and all claims made in October within 30 days. The CAA says it will be monitoring Virgin Atlantic's performance "particularly closely".

    • Westjet: The CAA says it had identified Westjet as not paying cash refunds based on passenger complaints. Though Westjet has now confirmed it is paying cash refunds, and contacting customers when a flight is cancelled to let them know they have this option. 

The CAA says it will continue to monitor the performance of all airlines that were initially identified as not paying refunds or paying out too slowly. 

It's also written to another 30 European and international airlines that operate services to and from the UK to highlight the results of its review and warn them against denying customers refunds. These airlines weren't initially included in the review as they were already in discussions with national and European bodies. 

What are my refund rights when a flight's cancelled?

If your flight's cancelled, under EU flight delay rules (which still apply this year despite Brexit, and which cover all flights leaving the UK or EU as well as flights to the UK/EU on a UK/EU airline), you're entitled to choose between:

  • A refund for the flight that was cancelled
  • OR an alternative flight (airlines call this re-routing) to your destination

We've seen some airlines pushing customers towards getting a voucher instead, but you are absolutely entitled to a refund in this situation. The CAA has reiterated that while airlines can offer vouchers and rebookings if the consumer's happy with this, they must give passengers a cash refund if they ask for one.

Our Coronavirus Travel Rights guide has full help with enforcing your refund rights if your flight's cancelled.

What does the CAA say? 

CAA chief executive Richard Moriarty said: "The airlines we have reviewed have responded by significantly enhancing their performance, reducing their backlogs, and improving their processing speeds in the interests of consumers. 

"Although we have taken into account the serious operational challenges many airlines have faced, we have been clear that customers cannot be let down, and that airlines must pay refunds as soon as possible.

"There is still work to do. We have required commitments from airlines as they continue the job of paying customer refunds. Should any airline fall short of the commitments they have made, we will not hesitate to take any further action where required."

What do the airlines say?

Ryanair spokesperson said: "Ryanair has already processed over €750 million in refunds and vouchers since mid-March, which is over 60% of Ryanair's total backlog of Covid cancellations in March, April, May and June.

"We expect to clear over 90% of the remaining backlog of refund requests by the end of July. However, thousands of customers are being blocked from receiving their refund due to unauthorised third-party screen scrapers providing Ryanair with fake email addresses or virtual credit card details that do not belong to customers.

"We call on the CAA to take action and introduce urgent regulation to ensure that these unauthorised intermediaries provide airlines with accurate customer details so we can process their refunds."

We've contacted Virgin Atlantic for comment, and will update this story when we hear back. When we originally published the results of our latest travel survey, a spokesperson told us: "As a direct result of the global travel restrictions, we have had to cancel a vast number of flights and continue to be inundated with enquiries, including refund requests. Our absolute focus remains on supporting all of our customers to amend, rebook or cancel plans.

"We would reassure all customers that if they've requested a refund for a cancelled trip, it will be repaid in full, and the work to process refunds is our priority."